The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued guidance to school districts today for returning students to in-person learning this spring.

As of April 5, hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count toward meeting the required student learning time hours for kindergarten through grade 5.

The middle school phase (grades 6-8) will be effective April 28, and high school students are to return to schools before the end of the school year, at a date to be determined. In a letter to superintendents, Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said districts will receive at least two weeks notice of “the date for high school students to return to full-time, in-person instruction, but [they] should start making such plans now.”

On March 5, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted amendments to the Student Learning Time regulations on an emergency basis to grant the commissioner authority to determine when district-wide hybrid and remote learning models no longer count for structured learning time. The amendments prioritize in-person instruction with appropriate school-based mitigation measures in place.

The DESE is accepting public comment on the emergency regulations through April 23. The board will vote on the final adoption of the amendments, with any changes resulting from the public comments, at its regular meeting in May.

With recent significant improvements in COVID-19 health metrics, rigorous implementation of key mitigation strategies, and weekly pooled testing running for students and school staff across the state, Riley said, more districts and schools have already started to bring more students back, especially at the elementary level.

Families may choose whether to send their children to school in-person or have them learn remotely through the end of the school year.

Districts may also apply for a waiver from DESE, which will be considered in a limited set of circumstances described in the guidance.

The DESE states that the new regulations “are legally binding.” Any district that does not comply or receive a waiver will be required to make up any missed structured learning time. This time could be made up during this school year, over the summer, or into next school year if necessary. In addition, the DESE points out that state law links Chapter 70 education aid to structured learning time.